UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Fernand de Varennes, made his final report to the UN The Human Rights Council on Thursday (March 23rd). Noting the overall lack of progress and backsliding in minority protection globally since the 1992 Declaration on Minorities, he emphasized the need for a binding UN Convention with his Report providing a proposal for a new Convention, and that a Permanent Forum and voluntary fund for minorities be established.

The Special Rapporteur on minority issues said the thematic section of the report on moving forward in recognising and protecting the rights of minorities at the United Nations provided a critical review and assessment of the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities since its adoption in 1992.

Thirty years ago, when the Declaration was adopted, the international community was hoping for a progressive realisation of the human rights of minorities that would change the lives of numerous communities and of millions of people throughout the world.

The thematic report’s conclusions were not so sanguine. The record for minorities had not been one of progress, quite the opposite. To summarise, there had been little or no significant development institutionally at the United Nations to advance the protection of minorities when compared with other marginalised groups. Many of the institutions of the United Nations seemed ‘indifferent’ to minority issues, with minorities remaining largely ‘left behind’ at the United Nations.

Mr. de Varennes said among the recommendations that were widely supported during the Special Rapporteur’s regional forums and the United Nations Forum on Minority Issues, and consistently supported by the European Language Equality Network, were proposals for a legally binding instrument, the consolidation of regional forums on minorities at the United Nations and the creation of a permanent forum and voluntary fund for minorities at the United Nations.

“It’s past time we live up to the commitments made 30 years ago with the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Minorities to take concrete steps to protect their minorities human rights and identities.” Said the Special Rapporteur. A new UN Convention is needed “because millions of minority children are separated from their families, millions of minorities are denied citizenship; millions of minorities are denied education in their own language; millions of minorities cannot freely practice their religion; most of the world stateless are minorities… and they are the main targets of hate-speech and genocide. Minorities should be a priority in terms of protection and action: but instead as the UN Secretary-General admits, they’ve been met with inaction and even negligence.”

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, described last year at the General Assembly that the current global situation is one of “outright inaction and negligence in the protection of minority rights” and that “it is “past time we live up to the commitments made in… 1992… and that every Member State take concrete steps to protect minorities and their identity.”

In the ensuing discussion, speakers said throughout history and still today, minority issues lay at the heart of many of the world’s conflicts and the rights of persons belonging to minorities were even misused as a pretext for war. The full enjoyment of human rights by persons belonging to minorities contributed to political and social stability and was key for effective prevention of conflicts. Notably, most of the member states at the meeting fully supported the proposals made by the Special Rapporteur.

States should develop pragmatic, sustainable and comprehensive policies to effectively combat negative stereotypes and perceptions of minorities; likewise, religious and ethnic tolerance should be promoted. The Council and all Member States should prioritise the protection of minorities, curb hate-speech, and strengthen education as a way to build resilient societies and safeguard the rule of law and democracy. (Eurolang 2023)

Proposal for a UN Convention on Minority Rights

Strengthening and mainstreaming the protection of the rights of minorities at the United Nations: an assessment of the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities: UN Special Rapporteur on Minorities Report 2023

Video of the Meeting (40th of meeting of UN HRC 52): https://media.un.org/en/asset/k1o/k1o0mr3dpn